For the first time in maybe forever, The Edge of Seventeen is a teen comedy that sidesteps cliches. I’ve always had a soft spot for coming-of-age stories and I’m thrilled to say this is a brilliant one. It feels like the defining teen flick of this generation.
Hailee Steinfeld plays Nadine, a socially awkward high schooler who thinks the world is out to get her. Complaining about everything and anything is a way of life for Nadine. She spends most of her time moaning about not fitting in and resenting her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) for his popularity. She thinks about herself an awful lot and only has one friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson).
There’s no question Nadine is annoying, but her insecurities are believable, so we end up feeling sorry for her. But at the same time, we want to shake her by the shoulders and tell her to get a grip. Audiences are not supposed to love Nadine like a traditional heroine. Instead, we’re made to see things from her point of view, and her behaviour is rooted in real tragedy. So unlike most teen movies, The Edge of Seventeen has a lead that’s not easy to warm to.
Normally in teen movies, the main character has a major obstacle to overcome. The ‘obstacle’ is the spine of these films and a way to reach the audience to make you care. Let’s take The Perks of Being a Wallflower, for example. Charlie, the protagonist has severe emotional problems, which started in his childhood. Easy A’s Olive is treated badly for being promiscuous, even though she wasn’t. Nadine is just unhappy about some things in her life and it’s realistic because we’ve all been there.
Often, things in life get can worse before they get better and for Nadine, it’s a nightmare when Krista starts dating her brother. Nadine tells Krista to make a choice: him or me. Eventually, a series of bad choices lead Nadine to feel even more isolated and bitter. Steinfield keeps her interesting with a complex performance, delivering anger and snappy jokes. There’s no villain causing problems, Nadine is her own worst enemy.
But there’s this guy in her history class, named Erwin (Hayden Szeto) who seems destined to be her savour, only if he can stop being so painfully awkward. He clearly likes Nadine – so much he can barely string coherent sentences together when he’s around her. Keeping with what I said about how The Edge of Seventeen avoids cliches, it would be criminal not to discuss Erwin.
I am glad for once we have an Asian character who isn’t a sidekick. The film spends a surprising amount of time focused on Erwin, an Asian-American, which unfortunately is rare in comedy-dramas. So, when Nadine and Erwin start hanging out, we all know where their relationship is going, but the “guy who gets the girl” is a refreshing change.
The Edge of Seventeen has a sense of familiarity hanging over it. It deals with all the standard teenage concerns, such as dating, family and school, but it in a different way. Take Nadine’s wise-cracking history teacher, Mr Bruner (Woody Harrelson). Writer-director Kelly Fermon Craig could have written him as a guru father-figure. Instead, he’s actually a dick, with a dry sense of humour. He speaks his mind which gives Nadine the wake-up call she needs.
Although you can predict certain plot points, The Edge of Seventeen doesn’t feel superficial. It has real emotion with smart performances and great writing. It’s also funny, perceptive and the drama isn’t anything too serious. As a whole, it’s much better than I expected it to be. This honest, grounded film will surprise you. Grade: B+
Directed and written by Kelly Fermon Craig. Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Hayden Szeto, Blake Jenner and Haley Lu Richardson.
Have you seen The Edge of Seventeen? Did you think it was another cliched teen move or something more? Let me know in the comment section!